B.C. government investing $100M to protect freshwater in partnership with First Nations
The B.C. government has announced what it says is significant funding to help protect the province's freshwater supply in partnership with Indigenous people.
On Monday, Nathan Cullen, B.C.'s minister of water, land and resource stewardship, said $100 million is being invested in a watershed security fund co-managed by the B.C.-First Nations Water Table (BCFNWT), which includes members from the government and B.C. First Nations.
The money will be used to maintain and restore watersheds and wetlands.
Cullen said watersheds are facing not only the threat of climate change but competing interests from industries such as farming and fishing and long-term, sustainable planning is critical.
"The actions we take will build safer communities," said Cullen at a news conference.
A discussion paper released by the Environment Ministry in January 2022 said areas of focus for the watershed security strategy could include the availability of safe drinking water, healthy ecosystems, ensuring a sufficient supply of water to support food security, as well as reducing risks from hazards like flooding and drought.
Public engagement wanted
The event also marked the launch of public engagement on a new Watershed Security Strategy and Fund Intentions Paper drafted by the BCFNWT.
It includes potential government priorities to protect watersheds. British Columbians can provide online feedback on the paper until April 17, 2023.
That feedback will be used to develop a draft watershed security strategy that will be recommended to the province for adoption.
Hugh Braker, the president of the First Nations Fisheries Council and a BCFNWT delegate, said future conversations about competing needs for water will be challenging, but he is nonetheless looking forward to it.
He said he is happy the government realized the interest, rights and knowledge that Indigenous people bring to the issue of water protection in this province. Braker also stressed the importance of getting it right for this generation and generations to come.
"Failure here is not an option," said Braker.
The First Nations Leadership Council issued a statement saying the province's investment and collaborative approach is a positive first step but also called on Ottawa to contribute as well.
"As so many First Nations face source water and drinking water insecurity and continue to be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis in the wake of fires, floods, and drought in B.C., significant long-term investments are needed from the Crown both provincially and federally," stated Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Vice-President Chief Don Tom.
The council's statement said it is imperative the federal government at least match the investment to ensure B.C.'s waters are adequately protected.
According to Cullen, the provincial government plans to work with private and philanthropic donors to continue to grow the watershed security fund.